Collection of short essays about an American’s hard time in two of Thailand’s most notorious prisons.
First-time author Hoy, Californian by birth, spent an apparently dissolute youth wandering Asia. He finally settled in Thailand, first in Bangkok and then in the northern city of Chiang Mai, where he committed the crime that is never explicitly named in the short narratives that make up this prison memoir (the cover copy suggests it was related to his failure to report a friend for murder, and documents reproduced inside suggest he was charged officially as an accessory). Whatever the actual crime, he was sent to Chiang Mai Remand Prison, then given a life sentence and transferred to Bang Kwang, the country’s most notorious prison. Bang Kwang officials, writes the author, barely recognized the humanity of their wards. Prisoners were kept in crowded cells where they slept on the floor in spaces too small for their bodies. The drinking water came from the filthy river running nearby, and the food most often consisted of thin chicken broth and white rice. Hoy contracted tuberculosis and nearly died before the American embassy intervened. He was finally released to the Americans on a treaty transfer to spend the rest of his sentence in the United States. The short essays range in quality, but they all display Hoy’s keen eye for the cruel detail—e.g., the senseless torture by prison guards of a captured owl or the murder in broad daylight of a likable coffee-shop owner by an apprentice member of a gang. The author also ably captures the humanity of his fellow inmates.
The overall picture is not the unrelentingly gruesome story promised but rather a thoughtful series of meditations on living as well as possible under the worst possible conditions.